Keeping a clean house isn’t just good for your mental health, but your physical health also. New research from the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) found that household dust contains a cocktail of hazardous chemicals that can cause a variety of health problems including cancer and infertility.
Researchers say the chemicals in household dust come from flooring, electrical equipment, beauty products and even cleaning products.
“We think our homes are a safe haven but unfortunately they are being polluted by toxic chemicals from all our products,” said Veena Singla, co-author of the study.
Children are most affected by these chemicals, says researchers, mainly due because they are more exposed to them through crawling around on the floor and putting fingers and other things in their mouths.
Household dust contains dangerous chemicals that may harm your child
They are also more at risk because their bodies are in a crucial stage of development, which can be disrupted by exposure to certain substances.
“They end up having a lot more exposure to chemicals in dust and they are more vulnerable to toxic effects because their brains and bodies are still developing,” said Singla.
The research, published in the Environmental Science and Technology journal, reviewed 26 peer-reviewed papers and one unpublished dataset from 1999 onwards that analyzed the chemical makeup of indoor dust.
The research looked at a variety of environments such as schools and gymnasiums in 14 states, reports The Guardian.
After reviewing the data, researchers realized the harm that can potentially be caused by exposure to indoor dust.
Flame-retardants, fragrances and phenols among toxic chemicals found in household dust
“What emerged was a rather disturbing picture of many different toxic chemicals from our products that are present in dust in the home and [are] contaminating the home,” said Singla.
The research focuses on 45 toxic chemicals found in indoor dust, which include flame-retardants, fragrances and phenols.
“Among them is the flame retardant TDCIPP that is known to be cancer-causing and is frequently found in furniture foam, baby products and carpet padding, as is TPHP, another flame retardant in the top 10 list that can affect the reproductive and nervous systems,” The Guardian reports.
“They are just a bunch of letters – a lot of people might not recognise what those chemicals are, or what they mean, but they are really a number of bad actor chemicals,” said Singla.
Scientists also identified phthalates in the indoor dust, a known endocrine disruptor that may cause breast cancer, infertility and other reproductive issues.
Phthalates can be found in vinyl flooring and toys, shower curtains, wallpaper, wood finishes, plumbing pipes, food packaging and personal care products such as hair spray, soap, perfume and shampoo.
Manufactures use the chemicals to make products softer and more flexible. One mechanism of exposure to phthalates is by breathing in dust that contains the chemical. Children are often exposed to phthalates by chewing on soft vinyl toys or other products containing them.
Phthalates were used in children’s pacifiers and teethers up until they were banned in 1999 at the request of the Consumer Product Safety Commission.
However, as demonstrated, they remain in many products found in households, particularly in items that are not replaced often.
“Especially for building materials there is not as much turnover of a lot of those products, like flooring,” said Singla. “Unfortunately even though some of these phthalates have been banned from kids products, they are not banned from other kinds of products.”
When comparing chemical levels in household dust to soil screening levels taken by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), researchers were surprised to learn they exceeded them.
“What we found – and we were shocked by it actually – is that the dust levels exceed those EPA screening levels for a number of the chemicals and again it is the phthalates and flame retardant chemicals that are standing out as the bad offenders here,” said Singla.
Cleaning your home regularly, such as vacuuming carpets, mopping and dusting can help reduce exposure to harmful dust. Washing your hands before eating is helpful too, said Singla.